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Taking care of your pet means preparing for the worst. You take your dog to the vet for vaccinations and checkups to ensure their health, but are you prepared for if they were to get loose and run away? Whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat or a dog, you must do everything possible to help your pet get found and returned to you if they escape the house or yard.
Pets can get loose for many reasons. For example, on Halloween, they might get scared of all the people coming and going and run out the door. Meanwhile, anxious dog breeds and anxious cats are prone to running away when they're scared. For example, many pets get scared of Fourth of July fireworks and run out of their yards or homes when their fight or flight response kicks in. Luckily, there are a few ways to help your dog or cat get found, including ensuring they have an up-to-date ID tag and microchip.
- What Is A Microchip?
- How Do Pet Microchips Work?
- Benefits Of Microchipping Your Pet
- What Are The Cons Of Microchipping Your Pet?
- How Much Does It Cost To Microchip Pets?
- Final Notes
What Is A Microchip?
Around 10 million pets get lost annually, and 15% of dogs and 2% of cats in shelters without ID tags or microchips are reunited with their pet parents.1 Most pet parents don't even want to think about what could happen to their pets if they get lost. There are many dangers outside your home and property, including cars, predators, toxins, and hot or cold weather. In addition, domestic pets may not know how to take care of themselves in the wild.
A pet microchip is a tiny, electronic chip with a unique identification number that is implanted under the dog or cat's skin.2 The microchip is activated by a vet or pet shelter, displaying the ID number on a screen so vets or pet shelter staff can look up the ID number in a private database to find the pet parents' private information. The microchip does not contain your personal contact information. Instead, you must register the ID number with a national pet recovery database.2
How Do Pet Microchips Work?
Pet microchips are implanted beneath the skin between the shoulder blades by a vet. If you adopted your pet from a shelter, they might already have a microchip. However, you should talk to your vet, who can scan the area and tell you whether or not they have a microchip and which pet microchip registry they're registered with. You can also use the ID number and search pet microchip lookups and databases to find where your pet is registered. If they're registered by the shelter, you may have to provide the registry with proof of ownership, including your pet adoption records. If your pet doesn't have a microchip, the implantation procedure is an outpatient operation and can be done in your vet's office quickly and easily.2
While microchips can be beneficial, they shouldn't be the only thing you do to ensure your dog can be found if they get lost. Since anyone can find a lost pet, including your neighbors or someone in an entirely different city, you want to make reuniting with your pet as easy as possible. Ensuring your dog wears an ID tag on their collar at all times can help a stranger get them home safely. A microchip is a good backup option, but it shouldn't be your dog's only form of identification.
Still, microchipping can be useful in helping pet parents reunite with their dogs and cats. When your pet is found and taken to a vet or shelter, they'll attempt to read the microchip with a handheld scanner that reads the radio frequency and displays the unique ID on the screen.3 Once they have the number, they can use a pet microchip registry to find the pet parent's name, phone number, and/or address.
Microchips last for 25 years, so you won't need to have your pet microchipped again throughout their lives.3 If you want to get your pet microchipped, you can take them to a vet who can perform the procedure within a few minutes. Animal shelters may also microchip all their animals before they're adopted. You should consult the shelter where you adopted your pet to determine whether or not they're already microchipped and how you can update the information with your name and phone number.
After your pet gets microchipped, you can register them with an online pet microchip lookup. Some registries are better than others, so you may want to register with multiple registries after doing research about them. You should also consider the fee structure; some may charge a one-time registration fee, while others charge annual fees.3
In the past, different microchip companies required different frequencies to use their chips, so there wasn't a universal scanner. However, there are now universal scanners that vets and shelters use. In addition, some pet microchip companies will register pets with any type of chip, whether or not it's their brand. Still, different chip companies may use different databases.3
Of course, even though your pet's microchip is good for 25 years, you must update your personal contact information if there are any changes. For example, if you move or change your phone number, you should contact the pet microchip registration company to have your information updated.3
Benefits Of Microchipping Your Pet
As we've mentioned, microchipping can help pet parents reunite with their lost pets easier, reducing the chances of something terrible happening to someone's beloved animal companion. The benefits of microchipping your pet include the following:
- Finding lost pets: The purpose of a microchip is to help find lost pets. They make it easier for people who find lost dogs and cats to return them to their owners. A dog's chip never falls out and won't break like a collar with an ID tag. In addition, vests can easily find the information they need to ensure your pet makes it home safely.
- Safe procedure: Microchip implantation is quick and simple with minimal pain. To a dog or cat, it might feel like another shot they get when going to their annual wellness exams. Of course, some dogs behave better than others at the vet. If your dog experiences anxiety when getting vaccinations, and it's difficult for the vet to properly aim the needle, they may require some sedation or anxiety medication to make the procedure less stressful. Additionally, you may ask your vet about a topical anesthetic to help numb the area before the procedure.
- Permanent: Microchips last up to 25 years, so they're permanent and can't fall off your dog like an ID tag. They stay under the skin forever, so a vet can easily identify a lost pet.
- Help with stolen pet retrieval: If someone finds your lost pet and decides to keep them, they may throw away their ID tag, and you'll have no proof your dog is actually yours. A microchip is the best way to legally prove your dog belongs to you because their chip will have your personal information. While you may have adoption paperwork from a shelter, it may be hard to prove a dog is yours because many pets look alike. A microchip allows you to easily provide proof of ownership if someone tries to claim your pet as your own.
- Inexpensive: Getting your pet microchipped is inexpensive and usually costs around $50, depending on the type of pet. In addition, you'll need to pay pet microchip registration fees for the registries, but they're all affordable.
- Privacy is protected: Since the microchip doesn't store personal information like your name, your personal information is safe. While anyone with a microchip ID number can look it up online, most people don't have microchip scanners; only vets and animal shelters usually have these technologies, so your information will be safe.
- National database: Microchip databases are national, so if you're traveling with your pet and they get lost or your pet happens to cross state lines, their ID number can still help them find their way home.
What Are The Cons Of Microchipping Your Pet?
Of course, microchipping should not be the only action pet parents take to protect their dogs and help them be reunited if they get lost. The disadvantages of microchipping your pet do not outweigh the benefits because this procedure can save your pet's life by ensuring they are found and cared for until a vet identifies them. Still, the cons of microchipping your pet include the following:
- It won't tell you where they are: Unfortunately, microchips aren't GPS location devices; they won't tell you where your pet is if they run out of the door. Instead, microchips are only useful if your pet is found and brought to a vet or animal shelter where they can be scanned. With microchips, you're ultimately relying on good samaritans. Many people are afraid to approach stray animals, so a microchip is not enough to ensure a happy reunion.
- It can move: Microchips typically stay in place between the pet's shoulder blades. However, it can move to another part of the body. Many professionals will only attempt to scan the shoulder blades for a microchip, so they may believe your dog isn't microchipped even if they are if the chip has moved. However, if you want to ensure your pet's microchip is in the right place, you can have your vet scan it at their next appointment.
- Emit different frequencies: As we've discussed, different microchip manufacturers make their microchips emit different frequencies, so not all scanners can detect them. Many vets and animal shelters use universal scanners to detect any microchip. Still, it's possible for a vet or shelter to not have a universal scanner, so they may not be able to find your dog's microchip even if they have one.
- Potential health risk: The risk to a pet's health from a microchip or the procedure is small. It's rare for microchips to have any negative effect at all. However, some pets may have negative reactions to the procedure. Inflammation is the most common type of reaction, but it's usually minor and temporary.
Ultimately, microchips can be effective, but they're not the only thing you should do to ensure your dog can get home safely to you. They rely on the fact that someone will find them and take them to a vet, and many people are too afraid to approach lost animals for fear of being bitten. Still, there are many good samaritans who will do anything to help a lost pet find their way home, so microchipping can be beneficial, and many dogs and cats have been reunited with their pet parents because of microchips.
How Much Does It Cost To Microchip Pets?
Microchipping pets is relatively inexpensive and costs even less than many vaccinations. The average cost is $50 per pet, including the injection and registration costs. Some pet insurance plans may also cover some or all of the microchipping costs. While there is no annual fee for the pet's microchip itself, the pet microchip registry may have annual fees, depending on which one you choose. Many pet shelters microchip pets before they're adopted, but you should always consult your vet to determine whether your pet was microchipped. If your pet is already microchipped through the shelter, you should talk to them to find out where the chip is registered and have the information changed from the shelter's information to your personal information.
Of course, before you choose a registry, you should understand any special features they offer or read reviews online to determine whether or not there are any drawbacks. You can register your pet's microchip with several online registries, but the more you use, the more you'll pay in fees.
Can you track your dog with a microchip?
Unfortunately, microchips are not tracking devices. However, getting your dog a GPS collar and microchip can help them get found faster. For example, a GPS can tell you exactly where your dog is, but it won't tell individuals who approach your dog your information, so they won't be able to return them to you. Instead, a stranger may use a dog or cat's ID tag on their collar or take them to a nearby vet or shelter where a microchip reader can scan them. In addition, GPS collars can break or get lost, while a microchip is permanent. Therefore, if a dog or cat escapes without their collar on, a microchip may be their only chance of being found and reunited with their pet parent.
Pets with microchips are more likely to be reunited with their pet parents, and the procedure is affordable, so every pet parent should ensure their pets are microchipped.2
How long do microchips last?
Microchips last for 25 years, so your pet only needs to go through one procedure throughout their lives. In addition, they don't use batteries, so they won't wear out or break. In most cases, microchips won't need to be replaced, but there are sometimes when you should re-chip your pet. Instances when you should re-chip your pet include:
- Moving out of the country: If you're moving out of the country, you may want to consider getting your pet an international chip. These chips are 15 digits, and your pet may already have one, so you can check with your vet to ensure your pet has the right chip if you're moving. You can also check codes where you're moving to determine if your pet's microchip is compliant. If your pet's microchip isn't 15 digits long, it's not the standard for many countries, so it may be a good idea to re-chip them.4 However, if you're not moving out of the country and your dog has a shorter-digit microchip, you shouldn't have to worry about having them re-chipped.
- The chip migrated: While chips generally stay in place between the shoulders, they can migrate or fail. These possibilities are rare, but you should have your pet's microchip checked during their annual wellness exam every year. If your vet can't find your pet's microchip, they may use a non-universal scanner, so ensure they check every frequency before re-chipping. If the microchip has migrated, you may want to re-chip your pet to ensure at least one of the chips can be found if your pet gets lost. Most vets and animal shelters will scan the most common palace for the chip between the shoulders, so you may want to get your pet re-chipped to increase the likelihood of their chips being found.4
Of course, there are several situations in which you shouldn't re-chip your pet. For example, if your pet's microchip is registered to someone else, you may have to legally dispute it instead of re-chipping your dog to ensure proof of ownership. In addition, you shouldn't re-chip your dog if you find out the company that made the microchip no longer exists; even if a company isn't around any longer, their microchips will still work.
Is microchipping your pet worth it?
Microchipping pets is worth it for pet parents. It's relatively inexpensive and doesn't harm the pet, so there's no reason not to microchip your pet to increase the odds of them reuniting with you if they ever get lost. But, of course, a microchip isn't the only thing your pet should have to help them get home if they're ever lost.
You should also invest in an ID tag with their name and your phone number on it and a GPS collar if they have a habit of running away. In addition, obedience training can be beneficial in preventing your dog from running away. For example, if your dog gets scared by fireworks during the holidays and starts to run, you can use recall to bring them back. Dogs that respond to their names are less likely to get lost, especially if they know other commands like "come" and "stay." Another good tactic is to place pets in their sanctuary space before guests arrive, alternatively, or in addition to, pet parents can install physical barriers like a baby gate to keep their pet from darting out an open door.
In addition, treating dog anxiety can prevent them from escaping during periods of stress, and treating cat anxiety can help cats feel calmer and prevent the feeling that they need to run away from what's scaring them.
Microchips are permanent and can help a vet or shelter identify lost pets and find their pet parents. Of course, while all pets should wear ID tags with your personal contact information on them, microchips can be beneficial if your dog or cat runs away without wearing their collar or collar breaks while they're lost. Microchipping is a quick and affordable way to protect your pet by ensuring a vet or animal shelter can scan their microchip to get the unique ID associated with your contact information in a database. While there are a few risks of microchipping, the benefits far outweigh them. Unfortunately, microchipping won't ensure you and your pet are reunited, but it can improve the chances. You can do many things to increase the likelihood your pet is returned to you, but perhaps the best thing you can do as a pet parent is to prevent them from escaping in the first place.
Obedience training is one method for preventing your dog from running out of the house or escaping the yard because it teaches them basic commands that will make them more likely to turn around and come home if you call their name or tell them what to do. Unfortunately, anxious pets may not listen even if they know their basic commands, so you'll also need to take precautions on holidays and during special events that may trigger your dog's or cat's anxiety. Worried your pet's anxiety might cause them to run away? Talk to a Dutch vet. We can help you manage and effectively treat anxiety and help you determine whether a microchip is right for them. Try Dutch today.
"'Every Day Is Tag Day™" - Is Your Pet Protected?" American Humane, 1 Apr. 2019, https://www.americanhumane.org/blog/every-day-is-tag-day-is-your-pet-protected/.
Reisen, Jan. "How Do Pet Microchips Work and Should My Dog Have One?" American Kennel Club, 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/how-do-dog-microchips-work/.
"High Tech: Identifying Lost Pets with Microchips." The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/high-tech-identifying-lost-pets-microchips.
"Second Microchips: Should You Re-Chip Your Pet?" Michelson Found Animals Foundation, https://www.foundanimals.org/second-microchips-re-chip-pet/.